Friday, April 24, 2009

I Miss My Guys!

Hey all!

I'm not even home to pet my cats at the moment and it's making me a little homesick, frankly.

I have been spending the week at the Frye Festival in Moncton, New Brunswick as a guest author at it has been one of the most awesome experiences. For the last several days I have visited high schools all over the region, reading to large groups of FANTASTIC high school students as part of this amazing literary celebration celebrating its 10th anniversary! I'm thrilled they asked me to be a part of it. Tomorrow, I'll be flying to Ottawa to take place in that city's annual Writer's Festival. I won't be home until late Tuesday and all of this talk of pets this week is making me lonely...
Yes, yes... I miss John, too. But thanks to intermittent Skyping, we get to video chat. And what do I make him do? I make him hold the cats up to the camera so I can say hi. Heh. (At least, I've made him hold up Smidgen and Jack. Smidgen might give him a hernia and Jack will shed him a new coat, but Butters might accidentally sever an artery with the slashing and the flailing. I'm not that cruel.)
Like some of the other Girls, we're all about the rescue cats at out place. Suckers for hard-luck cases. Smidgen (or "oh you great enormous fat thing, you" as she's now known *sigh*) was a shelter kitty. She is all about the food. And bathing. She will bath anything that stays still longer than a few seconds. She is very maternal. So we got her a pet.
Jack (the pet) was the most pathetic thing I've ever seen when we adopted him. He looked like that orange cat from the Bugs Bunny cartoon. The Humane Society lady was so desperate to get rid of him she gave his to us for free. We took him home with some trepidation and set his carrier down... and Smidgen started to bath him.
He is now the prettiest (cleanest) cat EVER and the darling of everyone who meets him. He is also boneless and quite possibly a dog in a cat suit.
Butters is... well... he was unplanned. We had always intended to stop at two cats. Then came the day that an orange pair of oversized ears attached to a skinny little ribcage and a too-long tail slunk into the front yard. Starving feral kitten. It took weeks of enticement-feeding and a 4-hour military-like operation to trap the little sucker in order to get him off the street. He now thinks he owns the joint. As you can see from the pictures, he ain't so starving anymore. He is a bit of a freak. He is also very very very clean (and usually damp about the head and ears).
So without further ado, I give you - the guys!
Smidgen, Jack and Butters sharing real estate.

Smidgen, contemplating bathing Jack...

Butters, contemplating attacking Jack...

Jack, doing his best to ignore both the impending bath and impending attack...

but still sleeping with one eye open!

Aww... if you'll excuse me, I think I'll go Skype the kitties again!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Cat Who Thought He Was a Person

When we first put this week on the schedule, I thought it would be a great topic to blog about. I love talking about my cats -- to anyone who will listen (and even anyone who won’t). Last month I did a guest blog over at Sharon Loves Books and Cats, and I wrote the blog post from the perspective of my cat. And then not even two weeks later, that cat, the crazy, mad-cap, thought-he-was-actually-a-person cat, suddenly died.

I guess I should really start by saying that I have a long history with cats, strays mostly. My first ever cat showed up on the doorstep of my parents’ house when I was nine. For a while, she camped out in our shed, and then, one cold winter night she meowed at the door, and my parents finally relented and let her in.

As an adult, the first cat I got was a cat that my husband and I found at an animal shelter just after we first moved in together. He was a skinny grey tabby kitten with a terrible eye infection. We moved him with us to five different homes, including across the country, where he rode as a carry-on for a five hour flight. Needless to say, all the moves stressed him out a bit, and he became a bit of stress eater – hitting 20 pounds and losing his stripes.

When we first moved to Arizona, we adopted a beautiful long-haired orange tabby. We found him in PetSmart, in a Humane Society adoption cage, with a sign that said “Today’s my last day. If I am not adopted today I will be euthanized.” It was nearly five o’clock, and though the cat was beaten up, limping, and looked like he may have been in a fight with a coyote, we took him home. He healed, and became incessantly grateful to us for saving him. He followed us everywhere, waited for us faithfully by the door, tried night after night to join us for dinner. And he had a jealous streak, and enjoyed chasing the grey cat under the bed any time he dared come to us for attention (causing, of course, more stress eating.)

A few years later, we found ourselves in PetSmart yet again, and happened upon a skinny black kitten, the runt of a litter that had all already been adopted. And before we knew it, we were bringing him home. On the car ride home, as I held the tiny cat inside my zip-up sweatshirt, my husband mentioned that it might be a good idea if we had kids before we adopted any more cats (or walked into any more PetSmarts on Saturdays when the adoptees were there).

And so we did. Two of them. Two kids, who at first, tried to rip the cats’ tails off, and then learned to pet them gently, and love the cats as much as we did. And while we became lost in diapers and late night feedings, the cats were always there, keeping us company, lying on our feet when we were up in the middle of the night. Our black runt of a kitten fell madly in love with both of the other two, taking turns keeping them company throughout the day.

And then a few weeks ago, we left for a few days to go to a funeral. Everything was last minute, and we were running out the door, with barely time to make our flight. As we were leaving, I saw the orange cat sitting by the door, as if he wanted to go with us, as he always did, and I gave him a pet and told him I’d see him in a few days.

But while we were gone, my neighbor came in to the feed the cats, and found him, dead, on the kitchen floor. We don’t know why or what happened, but we know it must’ve been quick because he was fine when we left, fine when my neighbor saw him the day before. We never really knew how old he was, because no one could say for sure when we adopted him that Saturday afternoon nine years ago, as he was about to be euthanized. But he never seemed old.

Since we’ve been home, the house has been quiet. No one running to greet us at the door. No one trying to jump on the dinner table. No one hissing at the grey cat when he jumps on our laps. Our orange cat was a cat who thought he was a person, and to us, in a lot of ways, he felt like a person. Which is why I’ve been dreading writing this post all week. Because there’s no tangible way to describe it, how much a pet, a little furry animal whose life you’ve saved, really does change your life.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Where would the world be . . .

without our animals?

Pet Day. Ahhhh, I've been looking forward to this one. I'm one of those pet people. Well, that's an understatement. I don't think I've gone a day in my life without a pet at home. Even while away at college, I had a full fishbowl.

Hopefully, you'll remember my post on the passing of my beloved 13-year-old cat, Snowball, only two weeks ago. I'm still very sad about it. I even find myself calling her name - just because. My little Rosie, (see below) has been melancholy, as well. The night before Snowball died, Rosie could sense something was terribly wrong. She put her little head only an inch away from Snowball's and laid down right next to her. Rosie never left Snowball's side the whole night. It was one of the most precious, tender acts of love I've ever experienced.

And thank God for Rosie. She lifts my spirits. Rosie's a fireball - energetic and full of herself. She's hilarious, really. A feisty little thing, my Rosie or Rosebud as I frequently call her, is a natural born comedian and has no idea of her comedic talent. After she's been lying down for awhile, her beard gets smashed to one side and stays that way until she shakes herself out. She's sneaky, too. Since she lived with a cat for the last two years, she fancies herself a feline. Rosie thinks nothing of getting up on the counter (when I'm not looking of course) and as soon as she hears my footsteps, she scrambles to get down and all I hear is a big thump on the kitchen floor. When I walk in, she struts over to her water bowl acting as if she's as innocent as the day she was born.

I can't trust her with an open coffee cup, either. If I leave the room - only for a second - I return to an empty cup and Rosie licking her lips. She looks up at me like, "What?"

Rosie goes ballistic when I come home. Jumping all over me, and three feet off the ground, she turns into a little show-off. She walks all the way across the floor on her back legs and twirls around in hopes of a snagging a good treat. When my next-door neighbor, Kathy, comes over Rosie gets so excited she starts running all over the house. Up on the couch, down the hall, up onto my bed, and back again. I'll open the patio door and she leaps off the top step and starts racing around the yard in figure eights. I call it her greyhound run.

My novel, Whistlin' Dixie in a Nor'easter, stars a 14-year-old Yorkie by the name of Princess Grace Kelly or Gracie, for short. Gracie gets herself into all kinds of trouble, like pooping in the dining room of Leelee's crowded Vermont inn.

Animals sure do make the whole world a lot sweeter - and funnier. Please feel free to reply with your own animal anecdotes! I'm sure we'd all love to hear them.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

My Cat. The Drag Queen.

An animal lover practically from birth, I used to dream as a little kid that my family would buy a farm and I'd get to have a whole host of random pets. (Of course, cleaning up after the pets or any general pet-care maintenance were never included in those fantasies...I just wanted to, um, play with them and stuff.)

So that's why, when I was 12, I was thrilled when my parents finally let me get a cat. A cute, orange, fluffy kitten at first, he quickly morphed into a giant, 20-pound hairball with Very Big Opinions. For example, my brother Patrick wasn't allowed in the dining room. Like, ever. In addition, he had some strange...habits.

And now, as you've all been waiting for, I will share my Drag Queen Cat story. (If you remember from reading my query letter, yes, this cat did make it into A Bump in the Road.) One Saturday, in high school, my family was out all day at an amusement park. I had to attend a school function, so I didn't join them. After being gone all day, I stopped back home to quickly change clothes before heading out for the night. My friend was with me. We made it about two steps into the darkened kitchen before my friend tripped over something. I flipped on the light and saw...lots of pink.

Frilly pink Barbie clothes pulled out of storage bags from the basement. An old 1980's prom dress from the bottom of my closet upstairs. My mother's silk robe. And yes, some some my sister's underwear.

All scattered around the kitchen floor. With the cat sitting in the middle, more than pleased with himself. I swear, he was actually smiling.

I tried to explain to my friend that my cat sometimes gets lonely when we're all gone, so he leaves presents (Items which he determines are particularly attractive, based on the color, sequins or material--basically anything pink, sparkly or silky. Thus, the nickname Drag Queen Cat.) for us in the kitchen, hoping to entice us to come back.

She just gave me a look like, "Yeah. Sure." I don't think she ever came back.

I can't blame her. I mean, Seriously.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Pets and Family

I grew up in a house where dogs lived as well as the human occupants. We never had cats or any other type of pet, but we always had at least one dog, sometimes two. And oh were they spoiled. I remember trips to McDonald's where my folks would also purchase a cheeseburger for the dogs. Our pets were allowed on the furniture, on our beds, and were treated with presents on Christmas, doggy baskets on Easter, and as much love as we could possibly give them.

As an adult, I treat my pets pretty much the same way. We currently have one dog (a huge black lab) and one cat (a smoky grey furball of craziness), and while they didn't receive baskets on Easter, they did have their own special treats for the day. They also get wrapped presents at Christmas. Watching Sadie (our dog) open wrapped gifts is a hoot! I think I give them to her more to watch her open them than anything else, LOL.

For weeks before Christmas, as soon as any presents start showing up under the tree, she'll nose around them, trying to sniff out if any are hers. Usually, she can tell (since we give her doggy treats like rawhide, etc), but sometimes she gets antsy and we'll wake in the morning with several presents unwrapped and Sadie giving us her wide-eyed innocent expression.

On Christmas morning, when we finally give her the two or three gifts, she'll immediately grab one in her mouth, run under the dining room table, and using her paws and teeth will open the present. When the first is opened, she'll come out and grab the next, and so on, until she has all of *her* presents opened. Then, she'll watch the kids open theirs with barely restrained patience...almost as if she's thinking "Hurry up or I'll help you!"

When she's sure there are no more gifts for her, she'll return to her spot under the table, choose whichever treat she wants first and either 1) go about tearing the packaging open, or 2) bring it to one of us to open for her. It really is hysterical!

The cat, on the other hand, is oblivious to the joy of wrapping paper. Ellie prefers the dangling lights and ornaments on the tree, and until someone actually opens her present and bestows the toy or treat upon her, she's clueless.

Regardless, we love both of our pets! We used to have a loudmouthed bird, as well, adding to the entire food chain , but unfortunately, she didn't make it through the winter. And no, I never wrapped presents for her!

I'd love to hear about your pets! Please share.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A necessary evil!

My sincerest apologies to my fellow Novel Girls and to our loyal followers for not showing up on Wednesday. Last week was, I'll just say, not one to be remembered. I don't like pulling no-shows but this time I didn't have a choice. I'll sneak in this post today, Sunday, and if one of the other Novel Girls has some news I hope they'll go ahead and push me aside.

Query letters don't come easy for me, either. I thought of mine as a necessary evil. But, to echo all the other girls, I agree that voice is number one. I wrote my query letter in my protagonist's voice, just as if she, Leelee, was the one writing it. I had not read anything that told me to do that way but it made sense at the time. My agent, Holly Root, has often praised me on the merits of my query letter, so I'm assuming I did it right.

I don't really have much to add that hasn't already been expertly told, but I will jump in with this bit of technical advice. was my most helpful resource. That website made the grueling process much less painful. I had spent way too many dollars on books about agents and what types of books they were looking for. has all of the information you need - for free! Here's the best part. You can type in your book's genre and voila - all the agents who represent say, women's fiction, are at your fingertips! No need to search though long alphabetized lists of agents to discover what kinds of books they represent. LOVE IT!!!!

So, if any of you who may be aspiring writers would like to ask any of us questions about that query letter you might be struggling with, query away. I'm sure we'd all be happy to help!